photo credit: David BenjaminBill
O’Meara (right), co-founder of LSI Logic and responsible for the
company’s marketing and sales, told this story: “When Wilf one day
called me to start a company together, I just said, ‘Yes.’ I did not
know the name of the company, what it would do or how much money I
would be making.”
2. LSI Logic survived
For any chip company in Silicon Valley to last 30 years is remarkable. LSI Logic had its ups and downs. By the late1990’s, the traditional ASIC business was teetering, with fewer designs spun. ASIC costs skyrocketed.
While LSI Logic devised proprietary EDA tools exclusively tied to its fabs, the world turned toward third-party EDA tools and foundries. FPGAs emerged, imitating the concept of “fast turnaround time -- the biggest value proposition LSI Logic invented,” said Ven Lee, LSI Logic’s employee number 13.
Fighting to grow faster through the 1990’s, LSI Logic expanded worldwide, moving into vertical markets and trying risky acquisitions, some of which foundered.
During that era when the standard-cell ASIC model began to fade, LSI Logic could have shared the fate of its closest U.S. rival, VLSI Technology. In 1999, VLSI was acquired by Philips Semiconductors, now NXP Semiconductors, for $1 billion.
In 2005, Corrigan stepped down as LSI Logic’s president and CEO. The company appointed Abhi Talwalkar, an Intel executive, as the new chief. Under Talwalkar LSI re-emerged as a strong networking and storage chip company.
photo credit: David BenjaminWilf
Corrigan cornered by two EE Times editors, Junko Yoshida and Mark
LaPedus. Corrigan now spends eight months of the year on a yacht,
visiting cities and villages around the world.
3. Failed to recognize FPGA explosion
At the reunion, a celebratory occasion, most panel talk revolved around the good old days at LSI Logic. But in the corridors, ex-LSIers quietly revisited what went wrong at LSI Logic in the early part of this decade. Some said LSI erred in ignoring the FPGA revolution. Many believe the company should have entered the FPGA fray, thereby competing in both ASIC and FPGA worlds.
Since Xilinx invented the first commercial FPGA in 1985, FPGAs and ASICs have competed for the same sockets. In hindsight, LSI Logic could have easily acquired an FPGA company or two. If LSI Logic had done so, Altera and Xilinx might have never come to be.
4. Enabled new system startups: Sun and SGI
LSI Logic has made several significant contributions to the electronics industry. Early on, it devised ASICs for the military, computer and related industries. LSI Logic “also enabled the disk drive industry,’’ Corrigan told EE Times.
Most notably, LSI Logic fueled a new crop of “system” startups in Silicon Valley. They include Sun Microsystems Inc. and Silicon Graphics Inc.
Without LSI Logic closely working with Sun on the Sparc processor, and MIPS’ cores for SGI, the world wouldn’t have seen on the West Coast these young, nimble and powerful workstation companies competing successfully against the East Coast “establishment” of IBM, Burroughs, Wang Laboratories and others.
photo credit: David BenjaminBill
Gascoyne worked as application engineer and customer trainer at LSI
Logic for 22 years. Asked what made LSI Logic a success, he said: “Training.” And who was the smartest among LSI Logic
customers? “Sun Microsystems.”
5. LSI Logic: One of first fabless chip makers
Founded in 1980, LSI Logic was arguably one of the industry’s first fabless semiconductor companies.
To get into the market, LSI licensed 3-, 2- and 1.5-micron technologies from Japan’s Toshiba Corp. Toshiba was a second source and LSI bought its wafers.
According to Corrigan, Morris Chang, now chairman and CEO of TSMC, was “inspired” by LSI Logic’s fabless efforts, thereby creating the foundry business – then a novel concept. In 1987, pure-play foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) emerged, propelling the fabless industry.
In 1985, LSI Logic moved toward an integrated device manufacturing strategy. With Kawasaki Steel Corp. it formed a fab venture in Japan, dubbed Nihon Semiconductor Inc. So, for a while, LSI Logic had its own fabs. But today, it is fabless again.
photo credit: David BenjaminVen
Lee, employee No. 13, led LSI Logic’s ASIC design for its first five
years. He spent the following five years directing the standard product
and microprocessor businesses. Speaking of Toshiba-LSI Logic
relationships in the early 1980’s, Lee said the partnership
paved the way for the world’s first fabless model. “Toshiba agreed to
sell wafers to us [LSI Logic], then a startup of 50 employees.”
6. Who copied whom?
In exchange for teaching Toshiba the ASIC business, LSI Logic absorbed Toshiba’s CMOS process technology -- lock, stock and barrel – buying the same manufacturing equipment and systems. LSI Logic became the first to practice “copy exact” methodology, before Intel adopted it and made it famous.
photo credit: David BenjaminDavid
Baillie (left), the first international application engineer at LSI Logic, now
CEO of CamSemi (Cambridge, U.K.), reminisces with Ven Lee and K.K.
Yawata, who founded LSI Logic Japan.
7. A pioneer in EDA
The EDA industry was born in the early 1980s. Three companies, Daisy, Mentor and Valid, are credited with starting what was then called computer aided engineering (CAE). This trio, commonly called D-M-V, caused a paradigm shift by offering third-party EDA tools for IC design. (Today, Mentor Graphics is the only survivor of the D-M-V era.)
Emerging at the same time, LSI Logic was also an EDA pioneer. In those days, ASIC vendors like LSI Logic devised proprietary tools. LSI’s tools, specific to its own fabs, derived from its proprietary Concurrent Modular Design Environment System, also known as C-MDE. With these tools, customers could create custom gate-array ASICs.
8. My EDA tools are better than yours
By the early 2000’s, the ASIC model was past its prime. ASIC vendors’ tools could not keep pace with those by EDA startups.
Still, LSI Logic, armed with its rigorous methodologies and its own tools, might have become an EDA vendor, or spun off the technology. Some blame LSI for failing to embrace third-party EDA tools. In the end, this reluctance cost the company.
9. Creating an (amazing) CEO talent pool
LSI Logic, where a number of electronics industry CEOs cut their teeth, served as training ground for future business leaders. Listed here are a few ex-LSIers who became CEOs at other companies.
John Daane, president, CEO and chairman of Altera. Daane spent 15 years at LSI Logic. His last position at LSI was executive vice president, communications products group.
Moshe Gavrielov, president and CEO of Xilinx. In the 1990s and 2000s, Gavrielov spent nearly ten years at LSI Logic, where he held several executive management positions.
Brian Halla, formerly CEO of National Semiconductor. Prior to National, Halla served in several executive capacities at LSI Logic. In his last role, he was the executive VP of LSI Logic Products.
Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder, president and CEO of Nvidia. Prior to founding Nvidia, Huang held engineering, marketing, and general management positions at LSI Logic.